Asilah is a city on the Atlantic coast of northern Morocco, also called as Azila or Assilah, and is located about 46 km south of Tangier, and about 110 km from Ceuta. On a plain beside a hill bordering the […]
Asilah is a city on the Atlantic coast of northern Morocco, also called as Azila or Assilah, and is located about 46 km south of Tangier, and about 110 km from Ceuta. On a plain beside a hill bordering the sea, next to the modern city, stands the ancient city, which languishes behind its beautiful walls challenging the ocean for five centuries. Every Thursday morning, a colourful and lively souk is installed at the foot of the ochre wall: with their clothes and wide hats, men and women from the countryside display here the products of their land, which are piled up in large traps and wicker baskets.
Asilah is today known for its long beaches of fine sand, for its well-kept and beautiful medina and for the international festivals that take place in summer, animating its streets, a large number of international writers, intellectuals, politicians, and artists.
Its economic activity is based on tourism, extending the city to the north with a wide promenade. Opposite the port that reaches the beach located north of Asilah are famous fish restaurants, some run by Spaniards. Many houses in its medina are in the hands of foreigners or are dedicated to rent.
Like other points on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, Asilah has a turbulent history of conquests and avatars. Ancient Punic, Roman and Phoenician city called Zilil, it was during the 9th century an independent emirate that was later taken by the Umayyad, Almohad and Almoravid empires. It was a Portuguese square conquered at the end of the 15th century, building the defensive walls that today house the old town and its medina (taking advantage of an earlier layout of the Almoravid era, according to some sources).
At this time there was a non-aggression agreement between Spain and Portugal, having Spain free to conquer on the Mediterranean coast and Portugal on the Atlantic. At the end of the 16th century, it was recovered by the Saadi dynasty and integrated into its territories, to be briefly conquered by the Spanish in the last third of the 17th century. Finally, Asilah was recovered by Muley Ismail in 1691. The medina we know today dates back to this time, since it was completely rebuilt after the expulsion of the Spaniards.
It’s a network of alleys full of white houses. The many painted walls are reminiscent of the seventies and bear witness to the beginnings of a music festival that continues to be held every year in August.
Asilah has without any doubt the cleanest and most careful medina in Morocco, characterized by the brightness of its sky, the constant sound of the sea in its streets, the salinity of its environment, which makes us remember the coastal towns of Cadiz, of great tourist interest. Its Its Neo-berber structures are flawless, fully repaired, and rehabilitated.
The houses are white, adorned by mural paintings by visiting artists. Some are being rehabilitated with beautiful Andalusian design, mixing white and indigo blue. The small mosques of Asilah, very clean, are completely painted white (a relaxing walk through the medina is something truly unique). In addition, there are hardly any souvenir shops for guiri, which have been established in most Moroccan medinas.
The walls surrounding the ancient city were built by Alfonso V of Portugal in the 15th century. There are three entrance doors to the medina, called:
Bab Homar: or Earth gate, with Portuguese flags, which today are almost erased by the passage of time.
Bab Kasbah: in the northern area surrounded by gardens and facing the Muslim cemetery.
Bab el Bahar: or sea gate, next to the square Portuguese tower that dominates the entire city.
We find a maze of alleyways inside the fence that connect homes whose whiteness is emphasized by the green or blue of the shutters and doors.
Entering through the gate of the kasbah (Bab el Kasbah), on the eastern side of the walls, you reach the Ibn Khaldun square, the area is dominated by a square tower, called Al-Kamra. Right next to the tower, we see a vast beach full of fishing boats.
On the way to Ibn Khaldun Square, we find the Great Mosque of Asilah and the Hassan II Cultural Center. This is where the Cultural Museum, which has been held every August since 1978, can be found. The rest of the year contains possible exhibitions of various contemporary artists
Continuing towards the end of the square through the alleys that lead to the walls, along the ocean, we reach another small square, where the palace of Raisuni (Raisuli) rises. This dwelling, erected at the beginning of the century, protects a cultural center. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century to shelter the former governor of Asilah.
From the terrace of this palace the Raisuli forced his prisoners to jump on the cliff with more than 30 meters of free fall. By the street that extends beyond the palace, we reach a small bastion called Torreón or mirador de Caraquia (also known as mirador de Arcila, another name of Asilah) where the inhabitants and visitors come to watch the sunset admiring the beautiful panorama over the medina and the ocean.
At its feet and by the sea, we can see the pastel green dome of the Kuba of Sidi Ahmed el Mansur. You can see a small cemetery muyaidín with about twenty tombs covered with glazed ceramics. In front of the viewpoint you can see one of the murals made during the Cultural Festival. Next to it is another door that gives access to the beaches: Bab Krikiya.
The same labyrinth of alleys allows us to reach Bab Homar, topped by Portuguese weapons difficult to read by the wear of time, and nicknamed by the Spanish ‘Puerta de Tierra’.
Leaving this door we access the souk Ahfir, Ibn Batoutta Street, where you can do all kinds of shopping. Adjacent to this is Hassan II Avenue, which is lined with terraces serving fish dishes and local cuisine. Here you must prepare to be besieged as it is full of waiters and intermediaries who work on commission.
In the new city of Asilah there are still buildings of the time of the Protectorate, as the medersa, dating from the years 30. From the modern city, built during the Spanish protectorate, we will observe a Catholic church built in the style of the Spanish missions of North America, called church of San Bartólomé, following the avenue Hassan II we will arrive to the ancient city of Portuguese epoch century XV.
From this part of the city stand out the newly restored square of Zalaka, where you can take advantage of breakfast or a drink, as it is a very pleasant place. Also the central market and the avenue Moulay Al Hassan Ben Mehdi, which is the promenade that is surrounded by a wall (part painted white and part of the original stone).
The main beach of the village, a must if you are going to spend a holiday in Asilah, is located just below this promenade. The port, for mixed tourist-fishing use, is where you can admire the waters of the Atlantic Ocean (since the point of separation between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic is Cape Espartel, which is about twenty minutes from Asilah by car).
The inhabitants of Asilah gather in this part of town to rest and admire the beautiful sunsets. Also nearby is the market and many street musicians play instruments typical of the area.
Shopping – The bazaars of Asilah are a good choice for shopping, it is much more relaxed to buy here than in Tangier, as the trade is not as aggressive as in the neighboring city. So if you’re looking for some craft, this may be a good place to find it.
Beaches – The best beach in Asilah is that of paradise just 3 km (1.5 mi) south of the city. It is a large beach of fine sand, excellent for building castles, taking a camel ride or just enjoying the sun and the Atlantic breeze. You can take a taxi or buggy to get there (horse-drawn transport). There is also a nice beach north of the medina.
Medina – the medina of Asilah is clean, well maintained and is great for walking. It is entered through one of the two main gates Bab el-Kasaba and the neighbourhood of Bab el-Homar.
The walls – a must on your trip to Asilah, as it is the best place to watch the sunset. It is also a fantastic location for taking pictures.. The walls were built by the Portuguese more than 500 years ago, but have been restored many times since then.
Wall paintings – Arcila, in Morocco, has attracted artists for many years who have left their mark on the colorful walls around the medina. These wall paintings are renewed in the months of July/ August during the annual Asilah Cultural Festival. The walls near the schools of the medina are a good place to contemplate an example of these paintings.
Casa Pepe: located just outside the main gate of Bab el Kasaba in Asilah. You can enjoy the food indoors or on the terrace. Try anchovies as snacks. Also here you can have excellent meats and fries.
Medina Café: It is located in the Main Square of the city of Asilah. The hotel is run by a family. In the mornings you can have tea or hot coffee. The restaurant is one of the best in the city, from where you can enjoy the view of the sea. Food is cheap. The restaurant serves Moroccan dishes.
La Place: is located in the city center. The specialty of this restaurant are its seafood dishes, which are offered on its outdoor terrace. It is a good place to enjoy the sea view.
The city has very good beaches. The ideal is to get away a little to less crowded areas, both north and south, where there are excellent beaches.
Las Palomas (or Las Cuevas): Direction Larache, about 2 km cross right and 1 km take the dirt road, also right, which goes to the beach (3-4 km). If you are going by car, you have to leave it in a parking lot before going down to the beach, guarded by a man who speaks very good Spanish.
If you do not have a car you can go by cart pulled by a horse that will cost you between 100 and 200 dh all day. For lovers of walking, there is a path bordering the coast that in 1 hour takes you to the beach. Wild beach of 4 km and fine sand with a cave that you can see at low tide. There are chiringuitos where you can eat a fish tajine or roasted sardines.
Sidi Mugaits (or the Saint):Same direction as to the beach of Las Palomas, after the right crossing, follow the road, you pass a village and 2-3 km you find the first big crossing (dirt road and uphill). Pull to the right and 5-6 km you reach the beach.
There is a large parking. Beach of sand and pebbles, where the chef will prepare you from a Spanish omelette, through a roast of vegetables, to a fish tajine. Everything with cleanliness and care.
Briech: Located at 6 km, direction Tangier. Beach at the mouth of a river. Three or four chiringuitos to eat.
Oued Tahadart beach (boats): It is 5 km, past Briech, direction Tangier, next to the road, and before the bridge of the river Tahadart. Narrow beach where you can rent boats to take a walk.
An interesting idea to complete your trip to Asilah is one of the following excursions.
Excursion from Asilah to Moulay Bousselham
For environmentalists and naturalists. The beach is 80 km towards Larache. Take the highway, then the Moulay Bousselham exit. It is a small fishing village with a reserve of storks, egrets and pink flamingos. On the beach you can rent boats that give you a tour of the entire reserve. Arrange the price before the boatman.
Then you can buy the fish on the beach and there are chiringuitos that cook it for you. Throughout the village, there are also eateries.
Khmiss-Bni-Arrous and Moulay Abdessalam
It combines a visit to a souk and a holy village in the mountain (1,200 m.). The souk (market) is located about 48 km from Asilah City. Take direction Larache and about 15 km take the crossing of Tetuán and then 10 km another junction to the right direction Khmiss-Bni-Arrous.
The market is held on Thursdays and go all the inhabitants of the surrounding mountains. After the market, about 25 km by roads surrounded by forests, we reach Moulay Abdelsalam (holy village for Muslims).
There are more than 20 fountains in the village and the mosque of the saint, climbing further up the mountain, has cork floor. Near the mosque you will see spectacular views of the outskirts of Arcila, in northern Morocco.Share this tour